As Gary Ames watched the news unfold of President George H.W. Bush’s death, he found his thoughts turning to a photograph.
It wasn’t the image of President Bush’s service dog Sully resting near the late former president’s casket, which by Sunday night was spreading across social media and news broadcasts.
Slightly blurry and decades old, this photo was simpler, shared only among a small group of Rogue Valley folks — but it captured the spirit of the man whose life was now being remembered across the country.
“It was an honor,” said Ames, of Central Point, “just to have met him.”
It was 1988. Then-Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush had been exploring the Medford area for the weekend just days before the Oregon presidential primary. He met with Bureau of Land Management officials, toured the Rogue River National Forest and reported a good time fishing the river, despite not catching a fish.
Ames said local news reported that Bush had left the day before Ames and his father held a practice for their Pee Wee Little League team at Hedrick Middle School.
But shortly after they had begun warming up, a familiar motorcade approached the school.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I know that vehicle,’” Ames said.
He turned to his father and pointed out the limousine.
Not long after, a tall Secret Service agent approached Ames and told him they would need to leave the field. The vice president was going to jog at the track there.
Ames, who worked in security and law enforcement, including a stint with the U.S. Marshals Service, told the agent to run a background check on him with local law enforcement and ask the vice president to meet the team instead.
“I said, ‘Do me a favor. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these young boys,” Ames said. “Could be a life-changing situation for some of them ... it would be great for them to meet the vice president.”
He also told the agent that his wife, Christy, had worked in banking with the vice president’s brother, William Henry Totter “Bucky” Bush.
With that information, the Secret Service agent “shrunk a little bit,” Ames said. He consulted with the rest of the security team and came back.
Bush, a former pitcher for Yale University’s baseball team, wanted to meet the boys and toss a few balls with them. After jogging long enough to wear out three Secret Service agents, according to Ames, he approached the boys to meet them.
“It was like you’d known him forever,” Ames said. “He was like family ... you felt at ease with him.”
The vice president learned each of the boys’ names and commended Ames and his father for their service in coaching the team.
A woman was at the field that day, who Ames figures had taken notice of the motorcade and come by with her Polaroid to capture the moment.
Bush noticed her, he said, and told the Secret Service to ask her for a picture.
That’s how each boy on the team eventually received a photo of their encounter with Bush. His gray T-shirt damp with sweat and the only one besides the catcher not benefiting from a baseball cap brim, Bush is squinting, his hands on two boys’ shoulders. One of them is Justin Ames, Gary Ames’ son.
Four months later, Bush would be elected the 41st president of the United States. In 1992, he would return to Medford for a rally with timber workers as he pursued an unsuccessful bid for re-election.
To Gary Ames, Bush’s small act of kindness toward the team remains an example of his leadership and concern for others.
“He didn’t have to do that,” Ames said. “We could have been chased off the field. Most would.”
That high opinion of Bush stuck with Ames through Bush’s political career to the end of his life.
“To me, he was one of a kind, one we need more of,” Ames said. “We know he gave his all for everything.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at email@example.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.